Don't bend it like Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator

Despite being convicted of rape, Bikram is still teaching yoga. And many women are attending.

 |  3-minute read |   29-11-2019
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Twenty-six strict postures and two breathing positions, all in 105-degree Farenheit heat, with people fainting and puking all around. "Welcome to Bikram's torture chamber, where you'll kill yourself for the next 90 minutes," yoga instructor Bikram Choudhury warns his students, who follow his instructions to the last word, unquestioningly.

What Bikram did not warn his students against was how, much after the 90 minutes of pushing themselves miles beyond the limits of physical comfort, he would start a process that would crush not just the body, but also the soul.

There could be many ways to look at Bikram's story told in Netflix documentary Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator. But the most disconcerting of all is how groupthink in this close community allowed rape to go on with impunity, one woman after another.

While some people did say they liked being pushed to the limit in Bikram's class, no one could answer exactly why this culture of silence prevailed.

bikram-690_112919034344.jpgBikram Choudhury stands accused of raping a number of his students. (Photo: A still from Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator)

The documentary suggests that Bikram built his US$ 100-million empire with 650 studios in the US alone on not just a mat of lies and manipulation, but also verbal and sexual abuse.

The documentary delves into Bikram's sins by speaking to the people who became his victims. They include men and women. Women, who were raped, and men whose belief in him as a 'life saviour' shattered on finding out the truth about him. Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator suggests all that happened within this community was an open secret.

Most of Bikram's victims were those who participated in his teacher training programme. A certificate from this class meant the right to open a franchise of Bikram yoga training centre. For many, this certificate was a way to salvage their lives. For others, it was about ambition. For Bikram, this was a license to turn into the "Harvey Weinstein of Yoga".

Faced with the prospect of paying millions in damages to his victims, Bikram fled the US. According to the documentary, he now takes teacher training classes in Acapulco, Mexico.

Hold your breath!

Women continue to flock his centre like they had always been, like nothing ever happened.

He also has an India tour coming up in January next year.

The Netflix docementary takes a rather objective view of Bikram's story that is a tale of a meteoric rise, a fall from grace, a shameless brazening it out and then turning into a fugitive. The victims, who the documentary makers managed to speak to, describe in disturbing detail of the ordeal they faced. But more disturbing are the bits of Bikram's trial. He looks defiantly unrepentant. He thinks he would go unpunished. He does. 

The horror-imbued stories of how Bikram raped women at his training centre and his own house "with his wife and two children sleeping upstairs" have not been enough to put the sexual predator behind bars. Worse, they haven't been able to turn him into a social pariah. 

This has perhaps happened because allegations of sexual harassment at workplaces — no matter what the law says — are still looked at with hawk-eyed suspicion.

Why did she not speak up? Why did she not snap at him? Why did she not walk out right then? Questions like these put the onus of proof on the woman in question.

While rape bruises the soul and the body, rape at workplace by a man in position of power, is also a threat to a woman's livelihood opportunities.

It is this threat that forces women into silence apart from the fear of not being trusted. This threat is directly proportional to the popularity and the power of the man in question.

Should you watch the documentary?

If you have read enough on the #MeToo movement and seen how sexual harassment at workplace played out, leave this one out.

Stories of gurus of various hues falling off high pedestals are aplenty. If you have heard one, you have heard it all.

But do use the time thus saved to reflect upon how not protesting 'loud enough' against rape at what is considered to be the 'acceptable time to protest', is still rape.

No guru, no matter how big his art, gets the right to do it.

Also read: Sex, spirituality and lies — what I learnt about Rajneesh inside Osho ashram


Vandana Vandana @vsinghhere

Author is Assistant Editor, DailyO.

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